ROME, Feb. 19 -- Matteo Renzi's efforts to gauge support in parliament before forming a new Italian government ran into its first major obstacles Wednesday in a meeting with comic-turned-activist Beppe Grillo.
The cool-headed Renzi deftly handled a power struggle against ex-Prime Minister Enrico Letta and negotiations with President Giorgio Napolitano, who asked Renzi to form a government to succeed Letta's.
But he appeared to lose his cool after meeting with Grillo Wednesday, saying the leader of a large anti-government bloc in parliament should be "embarrassed" by the way he conducted himself during the talks. "I saw the embarrassed faces of his followers," Renzi said. "Grillo wouldn't dialogue even after his supporters urged him to."
Grillo, a long-time government critic, raised eyebrows by becoming a major political player over the last two years. His movement won more than a fourth of the vote in parliamentary elections on Feb. 24-25 last year, and he refused to discuss an alliance with any other bloc -- sparking a two-month-old stalemate that ended last April when Napolitano asked Letta to form a government.
But without support from a large enough unified bloc, the Letta government struggled to pass reforms until Letta was forced to step down last Friday.
On Wednesday, Renzi found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of Grillo's distaste for compromise.
"Many Italians see Renzi as an inspiring leader but he does lack experience in some areas," said Gian Franco Gallo, a political analyst.
"He has never been in parliament and so one of the areas where he will need to refine is in building consensus, though to be fair, negotiating with Beppe Grillo is not a fair measure of that."
Renzi's also met with representatives of the other major parties in parliament -- including those expected to line up in opposition of his ruling coalition -- though those meetings were less dramatic than the talks with Grillo.
Renzi appeared encouraged by the meetings, predicting he'd be able to present the members of his proposed Council of Ministers Saturday and to face the parliamentary confidence vote that will make his government official by Monday.
"I'm convinced the conditions are in place for us to do good work," Renzi said Wednesday. Renzi was expected to spend Thursday and Friday working on policy issues and settling on choices for cabinet positions in his government.
The most watched position will be that of the minister of finance, who will be charged with helping the country's fledgling economic recovery gain momentum and staying power.
Regardless of who it is, analysts said Renzi needed a figure well known and respected even beyond Italy's borders to help assuage investor concerns about the country's economic performance going forward.